This Week's IDEA

Promote Continuity to Better Support Customer Journeys

Using service design to focus on "how it works"
May 12, 2020
Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. That’s not what we think design is. Design is how it works.—Steve Jobs

Welcome to This Week’s IDEA, where we talk about one essential topic around 21st Century IDEA and share resources and tools that you can use to start making small, incremental changes to your websites and digital services.

21st Century IDEA states that new and updated executive agency websites should have “a consistent appearance” (P.L. 115-336 §3(A)2).

This requirement really means that we need to promote continuity by minimizing disruption and providing a consistent experience—across sites, devices, channels, services, agencies, and time.

Consistency is not necessarily conformity. Each website has a unique audience, mission, and goal, so the way that we implement our solutions differs. But, we can promote continuity by starting from shared solutions and values. The U.S. Web Design System’s design principles are one set of shared values.

So, what does it mean to promote continuity, and how can we build user-centered solutions that address the whole experience of our customers in the context of their journey?

In 2003, when asked about the success of the iPod, Steve Jobs said, “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer—that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

How can we design government websites so they look good AND work? How can we design our services to better support customer journeys?

According to the service design framework, we need to address both the “frontstage” appearance of our websites and “backstage” components like governance, infrastructure, and policies.


Over 10 million people per month visit the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) websites. Many had a fractured, frustrating experience locating the information they need. A united VA team worked across boundaries to eliminate outdated content, move essential information to a new content management system, and give Veterans the 21st century digital experience they deserve. So far, the new has had a significant impact. For example, since the national rollout there has been a 700% increase in appointments scheduled online.

In October 2019, the U.S. Web Design System team held a digital experience meetup, and we asked digital experts from federal agencies what they do to deliver a great digital experience.

Photo of a people working together in a conference room at GSA. All are seated at tables while one person takes notes at a whiteboard.

A breakout group brainstorms what it means to deliver an experience that solves a problem at the board.

Below are a few things attendees said they do to promote continuity on their websites.

Screen capture of 325 notes that have been separated into five groups in four columns on an online whiteboard. There are 59 light green notes under Group 1 (A great experience is straightforward and makes sense, it just takes ...). There are 111 light blue cards in Group 2 (To deliver an experience that solves a problem, I need ...). There are 60 pink cards in Group 3 (To make a better digital experience, it would be helpful to have access to ...). There are 85 yellow cards in Group 4 (To make me feel capable and in control of the digital experience, I need ...). Ten black cards are in an additional group, Miscellaneous, below Group 1 in the bottom left corner. In the paragraph below this image, there is a link to the whiteboard where one can zoom in and out to read the cards.

Summary from four breakout groups.

Check out the summary from the four breakout groups at the meetup for more insights and inspiration! (Note: There are 325 cards in the summary; use the zoom settings in the bottom right corner of the summary to zoom in and read them.)

Continuity is key. Let’s work together to promote continuity.

Up Next

From the Field

“All government websites shouldn’t look exactly the same because trust and recognition are not universal. Instead, the design must match the tone and subject matter of each agency’s unique mission.” —via 18F

Do you have a 21st Century IDEA-related comment or question? Or would you like to give a shout out to your colleagues? Send it to us at, and we’ll work to incorporate it into the next newsletter.

Originally posted by Ammie Farraj Feijoo on May 12, 2020

GSA | Washington, DC

Originally posted by Dan Williams on May 12, 2020

GSA | Portland, OR

May 12, 2020